Ensigns. Or: What flag is that?

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  • #23987
    Andrew T
    Participant

    Hi, all.

    1) I appreciate that an answer to this might be: depends on the period. But, when it came to merchant ensigns of Britain, what was flown?

    I know the East India Company had their own ensign but what about the humble merchantman of Britain?

    I know that the Red ensign was a naval ensign until 1860(?) when it was replaced by the White and the Red was then made the merchant ensign, but while the Red was a naval ensign what was the merchant one? Seems a tad risky if they flew the Red too.

    2) Did any other naval power at the time have multiple naval ensigns? We had Blue, Red and White. Did anyone else?

    3) Did any other sea power use a different ensign for their merchantmen?

    It would seem the humble sailor would need to be very familiar with all the flags of the sea, and what happens when you change yours? Send a telegram to the world? “We, the British, have changed our ensigns, they’re all White now. Thank you.”

    #23989
    David Hepper
    Participant

    In response to your first query –
    It would appear that British merchant shipping did use the Red Ensign.
    According to Perrin (British Flags Cambridge University Press 1922) in the early 17th C merchant ships wore national colours – St Georges Cross for England and St Andrews Cross for Scotland.
    In 1674 “… the use of the red ensign was for the first time legally recognised as the distinctive flag of a British merchant ship” by Royal Proclamation. This was a red ensign with either a St Georges or St Andrews flag in the canton.
    This was updated in a Proclamation of 1707 when the merchant flag was amended to be a red ensign with a Union flag in the canton.
    They were forbidden to use the Union Flag or fly any pendants which were the reserve of warships

    #23990
    Andrew T
    Participant

    Thank you.

    That’s interesting. I wonder why they simply went with a red flag with a union flag in the canton. Cheap I suppose.

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